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Natural Law: A Select Bibliography

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Source: This Bibliography is taken from Heinrich A. Rommen, The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy (1936), trans. Thomas R. Hanley, ed. Russell Hittinger (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998).

Heinrich Rommen was a Catholic German lawyer who practised in Germany during the Weimar Republic before fleeing to the United States in 1938. He taught in Germany and England before concluding his distinguished scholarly career at Georgetown University.

Select Bibiography on Natural Law bu Russell Hittinger


Because the subject of natural law touches at least five disciplines in the modern academy—law, philosophy, theology, politics, and history—the literature is extraordinarily diverse. The best single source is the American Journal of Jurisprudence (formerly the Natural Law Forum), which publishes articles, reviews, and bibliographies reflecting the entire spectrum of natural law themes and methods. See, for example, the recent bibliography by Schall.

Schall, James V. “The Natural Law Bibliography.”American Journal of Jurisprudence 40 (1995): 157–98.

General Studies

Historical summaries and interpretations of natural law vary considerably. The book by Rommen’s Italian contemporary, d’Entrèves, is still useful, but one should get the 1994 edition, which includes new appendices reflecting changes in the author’s thinking. The encyclopedia entry by Leo Strauss is perhaps the best summary of Strauss’s approach to the problem of natural law. Simon’s book, based on his 1958 lectures at the University of Chicago, is a remarkably clear exposition of the philosophical problems that attend theories of natural law.

d’Entrèves, A. P. Natural Law. 2d rev. ed. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1972. Reprint, with new Introduction by Cary J. Nederman. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

Gierke, Otto. Natural Law and the Theory of Society. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934.

Simon, Yves R. The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher’s Reflections. Ed. Vukan Kuic. 1965. Reprint, with an introduction by Russell Hittinger. New York: Fordham University Press, 1992.

Strauss, Leo. “On Natural Law.” In Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, 137–46. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983. Originally published in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. David L. Sills, 2:80–90.


Systematically developed theories of natural law are the work of medieval and modern minds. But the problem of natural justice was addressed by Plato, Aristotle, and the Greek and Roman Stoics. Works by Barker, Miller, Maguire, Spanneut, A. Watson, and G. Watson treat the concept of justice by nature in the philosophers of antiquity; Novak studies its development in Jewish thought. In The Natural Law, Rommen depicts the transition from classical to medieval theories as being smooth and cumulative. The essay by Koester, however, suggests that the transition was more abrupt. He argues that the introduction of biblical ideas of creation and law into the Graeco-Roman world is chiefly responsible for the concept of “natural law.” The essay by Mahoney traces some of the early theological formulations and uses of natural law.

Barker, Ernest. “Aristotle’s Conception of Justice, Law, and Equity in the Ethics and the Rhetoric.” In The Politics of Aristotle, 362–72. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958.

Koester, Helmut. “The Concept of Natural Law in Greek Thought.” In Religions in Antiquity, ed. Jacob Neusner. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968.

Maguire, G. P. “Plato’s Theory of Natural Law.”Yale Classical Studies 10 (1947): 151–78.

Mahoney, John, S.J. “Nature and Supernature.” In Natural Law and Theology, ed. Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick, 413–63. New York: Paulist Press, 1991.

Miller, Fred D. “Aristotle on Natural Law and Justice.” In A Companion to Aristotle’s Politics, ed. David Keyt and Fred D. Miller. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991.

Novak, David. “Natural Law, Halakhah and the Covenant.”Jewish Law Annual 7 (1988): 43–67.

Spanneut, M. “Stoicism: Influence on Christian Thought.” In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13, 719–21. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.

Watson, Alan. “The Legacy of Justinian Natural Law.” In Roman Law and Comparative Law, 214–20. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991.

Watson, G. “The Early History of Natural Law.”Irish Theological Quarterly 33 (1966): 65–74.

Medieval and Scholastic

Today, the work of Thomas Aquinas is widely regarded as the preeminent example of medieval natural law theory. For general studies on Thomas Aquinas, see the books by Chenu and Torrell. By no means, however, is contemporary Thomism a united front. Adler, Brock, and Grisez provide three very different interpretations of Thomas’s natural law theory. The essays and books by Bourke, Davitt, Dewan, and McInerny treat various Thomistic themes and issues. While not being explications of Thomas’s texts, the books by Maritain, Simon, and Messner represent some of the best neo-scholastic work on natural law in Rommen’s generation. Murray’s influential collection of essays tries to reconcile the scholastic tradition with American institutions. Finally, the essay by Alasdair MacIntyre reflects upon the papal use of natural law in the recent encyclical Veritatis Splendor.

Historically, Thomas was only one tributary of medieval natural law thinking. Works by Berman, Gilby, Gratian (new edition by Thompson and Gordley), Kuttner, Pennington, Post, and Ullmann explore the political and jurisprudential themes that formed the institutional context and background of the philosophical and theological debates in the medieval schools. Works by Oakley, McDonnell, Gewirth, and Tuck examine the non-Thomistic channels of medieval natural law thinking, some of which proved very influential for the development of modern theories of law and rights.

Adler, Mortimer. “A Question About Law.” In Essays in Thomism, ed. Robert E. Brennan, 207–36. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1942.

Berman, Harold J. Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Bourke, Vernon. “The Background of Aquinas’ Synderesis Principle.” In Graceful Reason, ed. Lloyd Gerson. Toronto: Institute for Mediaeval Studies, 1983.

———. “The Synderesis Rule and Right Reason.”Monist 66 (1983): 71–82.

Brock, Stephen L. “The Legal Character of Natural Law According to St. Thomas Aquinas.” Ph.D. diss. University of Toronto, 1988.

Chenu, Marie-Dominique. Toward Understanding Saint Thomas. Trans. A. M. Landry and D. Hughes. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1964.

Davitt, Thomas E. The Nature of Law. St. Louis: B. Herder, 1951.

Dewan, Lawrence. “St. Thomas, Our Natural Lights, and the Moral Order.”Angelicum 67 (1990): 285–308.

Donagan, Alan. “The Scholastic Theory of Moral Law in the Modern World.” In Aquinas, ed. A. Kenny, 328–29. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969.

Gewirth, Alan. Marsilius of Padua: The Defender of Peace. Vol. 1 of Marsilius of Padua and Medieval Political Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951.

Gilby, Thomas. Between Community and Society: A Philosophy and Theology of the State. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1953.

———. The Political Thought of Thomas Aquinas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Gratian. The Treatise on Laws (Decretum DD. 1–20), with the Ordinary Gloss. Trans. Augustine Thompson, O.P., and James Gordley Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993.

Grisez, Germain. “The First Principle of Practical Reason: A Commentary on the Summa Theologiae 94.2.”Natural Law Forum 10 (1965): 168–201.

Kuttner, Stephen. “The Natural Law and Canon Law.”Proceedings of the University of Notre Dame Natural Law Institute 3 (1950): 85–116.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. “How Can We Learn What Veritatis Splendor Has to Teach.”Thomist 58, no. 2 (1994): 171–94.

Maritain, Jacques. La loi naturelle ou loi non écrite. Fribourg: Éditions universitaires Fribourg Suisse, 1986.

McDonnell, K. “Does William of Ockham Have a Theory of Natural Law?”Franciscan Studies 34 (1974): 383–92.

McInerny, Ralph. “The Basis and Purpose of Positive Law.” In Lex et Libertas, ed. L. J. Elders and K. Hedwig, 137–46. Vatican: Pontificia Accadmia Di S. Tommaso E Di Religione Cattolica, 1987.

Messner, Johannes. Social Ethics: Natural Law in the Western World. Trans. J. J. Doherty. St. Louis: B. Herder, 1965.

Murray, John Courtney. We Hold These Truths. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960.

Oakley, Francis. “Medieval Theories of Natural Law: William of Ockham and the Significance of the Voluntarist Tradition.”Natural Law Forum 6 (1961): 65–83.

Pennington, K. The Prince and the Law. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Post, Gaines. Studies in Medieval Legal Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964.

Simon, Yves R. Philosophy of Democratic Government. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951.

Torrell, Jean-Pierre. The Person and His Work. Vol. 1 of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Trans. Robert Royal. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996.

Tuck, Richard. Natural Rights Theories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Ullmann, Walter. Jurisprudence in the Middle Ages. London: Variorum Reprints, 1980.


Although there are family resemblances between premodern and modern theories of natural law, the Enlightenment era theorists reworked natural law in the light of new philosophical vocabularies and under the pressure of new political and institutional forces. Ruby and Rapaczynski investigate how the new sciences changed the logic of predicating “law(s)” of “nature.” Windolph and Bobbio examine the most important figure in that change, Thomas Hobbes. Leo Strauss’s book recommends itself. Strauss emphasized the discontinuity of ancient and modern theories of natural right. There is much disagreement, however, about how this discontinuity applies to John Locke. Different readings of Locke are to be found in the books by Grant, Andrew, and Haakonssen. Haakonssen examines the Enlightenment generally, and Scottish tradition in particular. Buckle, Schneewind, Waddicor, and Windolph take up the issue of natural law in various Enlightenment philosophers.

Andrew, Edward. Shylock’s Rights: A Grammar of Lockian Claims. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.

Bobbio, Norberto. Thomas Hobbes and the Natural Law Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Buckle, Stephen. Natural Law and the Theory of Property: Grotius to Hume. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1991.

Chroust, Anton-Hermann. “Hugo Grotius and the Scholastic Natural Law Tradition.”New Scholasticism 17, no. 2 (1943): 101–33.

Grant, Ruth. John Locke’s Liberalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Haakonssen, Knud. Natural Law and Moral Philosophy: From Grotius to the Scottish Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Rapaczynski, Andrzej. Nature and Politics: Liberalism in the Philosophies of Hobbe, Locke, and Rousseau. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987.

Ruby, Jane E. “The Origins of Scientific ‘Law.’”Journal of the History of Ideas 47 (1986): 341–59.

Schneewind, J. B. “Kant and Natural Law Ethics.”Ethics 104 (October 1993): 53–74.

Strauss, Leo. Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953.

Waddicor, Mark H. Montesquieu and the Philosophy of Natural Law. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1970.

Windolph, F. Lyman. Leviathan and Natural Law. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951.


The Atiyah-Summers volume compares English and American legal cultures, including their respective attitudes toward natural law. For the English situation, see the works of Hart (1958), Postema, and Stanlis; for the American, see Brownson, Corwin, Hittinger (1990), and Tiedeman. The famous debate of a generation ago, between Fuller and Hart, exemplifies many of the differences between the English and American minds on natural law.

Concerning the role of natural law in judicial review, see my remarks in the Introduction on the books by Corwin, Cover, Haines, and Wright. For the Fourteenth Amendment and the jurisprudence of due process, see Arkes (1994), Ely, Nelson, and Stevens. The Barnett volume includes essays on the Ninth Amendment. Arkes (1990), Dworkin, and Richards agree that the Constitution requires a moral interpretation but differ considerably on both the substance and the logic of the morality that ought to guide jurisprudence. The essay by Hittinger explores natural law grounds for judicial restraint. Ely argues that theories of natural law provide no such restraint.

Arkes, Hadley. Beyond the Constitution. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

———. The Return of George Sutherland: Restoring a Jurisprudence of Natural Rights. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Atiyah, P. S., and R. S. Summers. Form and Substance in Anglo-American Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1987.

Barnett, Randy E., ed. The Rights Retained by the People: The History and Meaning of the Ninth Amendment. Fairfax: George Mason University Press, 1989.

Brownson, Orestes A. “The Higher Law.” In Essays and Reviews, Chiefly on Theology, Politics, and Socialism, 349–67. New York: D. and J. Sadlier, 1880.

Corwin, Edward S. The “Higher Law” Background of American Constitutional Law. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1955.

Cover, Robert M. Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.

Dworkin, Ronald. “‘Natural’ Law Revisited.”University of Florida Law Review 34 (1982): 165–88.

Ely, John Hart. Democracy and Distrust. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Fuller, Lon. The Morality of Law. Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969.

Haines, Charles Groves. The Revival of Natural Law Concepts. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1930.

Hart, H. L. A. “Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morality.”Harvard Law Review 71 (1958): 593–629.

———. The Concept of Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.

———. “Review of Lon L. Fuller, The Morality of Law.” In Essays in Jurisprudence and Philosophy, 343–64. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1983.

Hittinger, Russell. “Liberalism and the American Natural Law Tradition.”Wake Forest Law Review 25, no. 3 (1990): 429–99.

———. “Natural Law in the Positive Laws: A Legislative or Adjudicative Issue?”Review of Politics 55, no. 1 (1993): 5–34.

Nelson, William. The Fourteenth Amendment. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Postema, Gerald. Bentham and the Common Law Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Richards, David A. J. Toleration and the Constitution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Stanlis, Peter J. Edmund Burke and the Natural Law. Shreveport: Huntington House, 1986.

Stevens, Richard J. Frankfurter and Due Process. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1987.

Tiedeman, Christopher G. The Unwritten Constitution of the United States. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890.

Wright, Benjamin Fletcher. American Interpretations of Natural Law. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931.

Contemporary Debates

In addition to the issue of judicial review, contemporary debates about natural law often crystalize around two other problems: first, the ongoing debate over legal positivism; second, the role of subjective rights in natural law theory. The book by John Finnis is a good place to begin in understanding both of these problems. A professor at Oxford, Finnis has developed an influential theory of natural law that has affinities to both the scholastic and analytical traditions. Finnis also systematically develops a theory of natural rights. The works by George, MacCormick, and Raz indicate that debates between natural lawyers and positivists are more refined today than they were a generation ago. On the problem of natural rights, see the two works by Fortin, who questions the compatibility between the older natural law tradition and the modern notion of personally possessed (i.e., subjective) rights. McInerny and Veatch also explore philosophical problems of welding together the two traditions. Maritain’s book is a famous example of the effort by some neo-Thomists to affirm the modern notion of inalienable rights. Hervada, on the other hand, develops an older conception of natural rights, not unlike Rommen. Writings by Tierney, Tuck (above), and Villey take different positions on the historical question of whether modern natural rights are rooted in the medieval scholastic tradition. Books by Gewirth, and Rasmussen and Den Uyl are recent efforts to make sense of natural or human rights completely apart from the scholastic tradition. Finally, Shapiro provides an intellectual history of the evolution of modern rights theories.

Finnis, John. Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1980.

Fortin, Ernest. “The New Rights Theory and the Natural Law.”Review of Politics 44 (October 1982): 590–612.

———. “‘Sacred and Inviolable’: Rerum Novarum and Natural Rights.”Theological Studies 53 (1992): 202–33.

George, Robert P., ed. Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1992.

———. The Autonomy of Law: Essays on Legal Positivism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1996.

Gewirth, Alan. Reason and Morality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Hervada, Javier. Natural Right and Natural Law: A Critical Introduction. Trans. Alban d’Entremont. Pamplona, Spain: University of Navarra, 1987.

MacCormick, Neil. “Natural Law and the Separation of Law and Morals.” In Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays, ed. Robert P. George, 105–33. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1992.

Maritain, Jacques. Man and the State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951.

McInerny, Ralph. “Natural Law and Human Rights.”American Journal of Jurisprudence 36 (1991): 1–14.

Rasmussen, Douglas B., and Douglas J. Den Uyl. Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1991.

Raz, Joseph. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1986.

Shapiro, Ian. The Evolution of Rights in Liberal Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Tierney, Brian. “Villey, Ockham and the Origin of Individual Rights.” In The Weightier Matters of the Law, ed. John Witte and F. S. Alexander. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988.

———. “Aristotle and the American Indians—Again.”Christianesimo Nella Storia 12 (Spring 1991): 295–322.

Veatch, Henry B. Human Rights: Fact or Fancy? Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.

Villey, Michel. Le droit et les droits de l’homme. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1983.

Last modified April 10, 2014